“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
― V.E. Schwab,
Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Author: V. E. Schwab
Format: Paperback–Spanish translation
Translator: Julieta Gorlero
Rating: 4/5 ★★★★☆
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
This books is full of twists and turns, the story will take you through different versions of London where magic and power are constantly pulling at their inhabitants.
The worlds Schwab paints in this series and the characters are as realistic and relatable. They go through things that put their convinctions into question and morality is something that isn’t just black or white. Lila is my favorite character ever, she is nonbinary and presents as a man most of the time, though she uses she/her pronouns.
The magic system is so intriguing, I just love language-based magic and the possibilities it offers. Although most people on other Londons have their own magic, there’s a special kind: Antari who have magic that allows them to travel through worlds. Our main character, Kell, is an Antari who gets in trouble when his smuggling brings him to an object with too much power.
Delilah “Lila” Bard
//I don’t know Lila’s pronouns but the book uses she/her so I’m going with that. If they use different pronouns in the English version let me know//
I love my genderfluid knife-y pirate protagonist. Lila is everything I didn’t know I wanted on a main character: has a sarcastic kind of humor, is sure of herself but not overly confident, and sometimes feels better presenting as a man. I loved her personality: funny and assertive. Another point in Lila’s favor is that her dreams didn’t lose importance or changed because of the adventures through the different Londons, Lila wanted to be a pirate and when it turns out there are other worlds then Lila wanted to be a pirate in other worlds. Have to admire the dedication.
Hang the fine dresses, she thought. I’ll take a ship
Kell is a #mess and he knows it. Of course a guy with the ability to walk between worlds would go ahead and contraband, I mean, he has the monopoly on outer-world things! But he isn’t irresponsible )despite the facts) he was ready to go and die on Black London to protect the existence of the other versions, he f*cked up and he owned to it.
Rhy: I have done nothing wrong in my life Kell: *while lying bleeding on the floor* I know this and I love you
Just kidding, he was possessed.
We didn’t get to see much from him this time, at least what was really Rhy. We meet him mostly through Kell’s memories and the brief moment Lila saw him on the parade. What we did see (and I loved) was how deep his relationship with Kell is. He doesn’t care that Kell is merely a weapon to be used, he sees him as his brother and treats him as such.
I feel like he has so much potential. A prince without magic in a world where magic is in everything; who manages to gain everyone’s love and adoration with his smile and benevolence. I can’t wait to see more of him.
He was like negative-Kell. He has the exact same powers as him but his upbringing was widely different. He was made a slave to the kings and had to fight just to keep going. He is a sad character who turns to violence because that’s all he’s known. His death was a surprise for me since this kind of characters don’t tend to die so soon in the series but it was well done.
Creepy Twin Monarchs
The King and Queen of White London were perfect villains, they spared no lives in getting what they wanted and even between the two of them was lying and backstabbing.
Nice Red Monarchs
They weren’t really all that nice. Sure, they treated Kell well enough as he was growing up but it felt more like they saw him as an asset, a weapon. They care about Kell as long as he is protecting their son and doing diplomatic shit for them. I didn’t like them much, as you can probably guess.
I just love VE Schwab’s writing so much. The way she deals with emotions (both on the characters and with the readers) is amazing. She makes you question principles and moral dilemmas while presenting an interesting plot.
The language-based magic, it’s my favourite kind of magic ever. It offers a world of possibilities with combinations and the creation of new spells, but also you can screw up pronunciation or forget a word and suddenly magic doesn’t work. It’s also interesting to see how Antari magic is unique to the ones with Antari blood but it still requires verbal commands.
How intense it gets, the stakes keep getting higher and the author isn’t afraid to kill characters. The moment we begin we can see how she dares to go there and not just injure but actually kill innocent people or someone our main characters care about. Also, that part with the little kid begging Lila to kill him…
The character of Lila on itself deserves a spot here too. Schwab has this way of developing her characters that go further than most authors, they are intricate and constantly growing, they change with the things that happen to them as real people would.
The pacing was kind of weird? There were moments when a lot was happening, and I love that, but there were also moments the characters took a break and just explored. It was exactly bad, since it did give us a pan out of the worlds and their mechanics but it felt kind of stilted. To be fair I read this book on and off for a couple of months so it can totally be my fault.
Very focused in the main two characters, which isn’t bad but it could expand a bit more. We see everyone else coming in and out of the narrative without diving too deep on them, as I said before I’d have liked to see more of Rhy and to have more depth on the Creepy Twins (TM). Then again, Lila and Kell are the main characters..
I read this in Spanish, that means that I have to google the quotes to get the exact translations…
“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”
Hesitation is the death of advantage.
Bad magic, Kell had called it.
No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.
And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.
Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing
“No such thing as too many knives.”
“You’re a violent sort.”
“Do you know what makes you weak?” Said Holland. “You’ve never had to be strong. You’ve never had to try. You’ve never had to fight. And you’ve certainly never had to fight for your life.(…)”
I think this is such a nice confrontation of Kell’s character, it’s similar to what Lila tells him but so much harsher.
…she didn’t regret it. She’d wanted freedom. She’d wanted an adventure. And she didn’t think she minded dying for it.
Kell looked down at Delilah Bard, a cutthroat and a thief, a valiant partner and a strange, terrifying girl.
I have a theory that may be a bit out there, I prefer not to search this to avoid spoilers. It’s basically that the worlds aren’t different versions of London but rather different times.
“There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers.
Let me explain: the first world is Grey London, a place where magic is uncommon, almost non-existent. Second is Red London, where magic is common place and everyone benefits from it, though there are some people who don’t have it. Third is White London, where magic got out of control and everyone’s thirst for power led to the crumbling of society. The last one we didn’t get to see but we know that Black London is a shell that died because of the same blind hunger for power that is now raiding White.
My second theory (which is probably true) is that Lila is the Grey Londond’s Antari. Evidence supporting this: she can travel through worlds without using the stone and she is missing an eye, which is the only visible marking of an Antari… I mean, it’s pretty obvious?
Maybe I’m wrong but only having read the first book on the trilogy these are the conclusions I’m drawing. We’ll see if they change as I read the rest
I’ll give it 4 knifes because you can never have too many knives
As Athera: To Grow As Pyrata: To Burn As Illumae: To Light As Travars: To Travel As Orense: To Open As Anasae: To Dispel As Hasari: To Heal
“For the ones who dream of stranger worlds.”
― V.E. Schwab,